Lee Co. EMA working to speed up grant funding to help families afford storm shelters

Local News

LEE COUNTY, Ala. (WRBL) –  The deadliest natural disaster in Lee County history, an EF-4 tornado that struck on March 3rd, claimed 23 lives and injured dozens more. Now, the catastrophic event has many families scrambling to install storm shelters.

The shelters can cost several thousand dollars, so a lot of families are asking if grant money is available to help them afford a shelter. News 3 traveled to the Lee County Emergency Management Agency for more information on the process.

Nearly 3 weeks after the storm families are focused on recovery and taking life-saving measures, like installing storm shelters, to protect loved ones from the next storm.

“They range anywhere from $3,500 – $3,800 and the price goes up as you add for more people. They have been proven to save lives,” said Rita Smith with the Lee Co. EMA.

Smith says grant funding for shelters related to this disaster is not available just yet.

“The application process is not open yet. We know how the process works. When we are at the end of a Federal disaster and adding up the damage,  a percentage of the money gets set aside as assistance for citizens to be able to apply. Now, this happens at the very earliest a year after the event,” said Smith.

However, Smith says the Lee County EMA is working to speed up the process, knowing many families can’t afford the expense. Nor, should families have to wait a year or more for peace of mind.

“Our hearts go out because we know a lot of people can’t afford to go out and write a $4,000 check for a shelter, we get that. We are having discussions, and we are letting our voices be heard for all of our citizens and talking with the state and federal agencies. So, we don’t have the answers yet, but we are working on it. Now, that doesn’t mean there will be a pot of money at the end of this, it just means we might be able to speed up the grant process and offer grant money sooner, ” said Smith.
 
Smith says if you can afford a shelter you are urged to install one now at your own expense.  You can call the Lee County EMA for a list of vetted contractors.

“We can’t recommend a preferred person, but we can put you in the right direction and give you options you can use along with what to ask the companies,” said Smith.

If you want to be considered for a grant, you need to email Rita Smith at rsmith@leecoema.com and get on the waiting list.   You can also call the Lee County EMA for more information at (334) 749-8161.

Within the month, Smith hopes to have more details to share on grant money and the application process for storm shelters. Keep in mind, even if they can speed up the process, the application is lengthy and requires detailed info from the homeowner.

Again, if you can afford it on your own, the Lee County EMA urges you to install a shelter now.

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